When you purchase a builder’s house, they give you a year to watch for nail pops and other consequences of letting the house settle into its new home. That was 30 years ago. I’ll bet you don’t know how much life fits into a three bedroom two and a half bath walk-out basement colonial home built on a dairy farm. I know. If you aren’t a speedy decision maker, you’ll fill it up as soon as the first child is born. The space between objects fills quickly from there.
So why is it called an Empty Nest, I’d like to know? The only emptiness I can find is in the time that has passed unnoticed. I have settled into a routine that fills the hours and the corners of the space. Deciding what I will no longer have time to do or to be or to learn is harder than ever.
And the house hasn’t settled, the ground has… to the point where everyone on both sides of the street has to meet code by raising their front yard up to 10 inches at the front door so solicitors won’t sue for damages. Was I ever really that naive young woman who wondered if the house would be too big?????
What exactly is left behind when we move on to a new lifestyle? This question hit home for me last week when a health issue sent me to the Breast Surgical Oncologist.
My left breast. It took up a lot of room. It was no longer useful. I couldn’t sell it. I wouldn’t donate it. It was only the memories attached to it that I really wanted.
But when push came to shove, I couldn’t imagine having to part with it. Or part with part of it. Unless I was dying, I wanted to keep it. And so I did.
Fortunately, the surgeon agreed and I came home with it and found the perfect spot to give it the honor it deserves. I will take it with me when I leave here, knowing that I will always be able to revisit the decision at a later time.
But the sewing machine… that really has to go….
It is mostly because I have given birth in a barn of a hoard with a bunch of asses shouting “push” that I know the real miracle to celebrate is Easter, not Christmas. Anyone can be born. Most of us can live. We all die. But to come back from death and give birth to hope and faith and love is quite an accomplishment. Whether a Phoenix or the Son of God, coming from the depths of darkness to the light of possibilities and dreams coming true, it is the guidance of these few examples which allows any of us to enter a tunnel with any expectation of coming out on the other side of the mountain.
If you are trying to help a hoarder, your gentle guidance is going to be far more effective than a big production. Ultimately, the hoarder wants to crack its own shell as it sees the light, taking all the time it needs to adjust to the bright light of spaciousness. If you are walking on eggshells around a hoarder, you are beginning to help. You are to be commemorated and celebrated.
There’s plenty of room in a coffin. Unless you want to Live. Because you CAN’T take it with you if it’s tangible. This is so entirely true that some hoarders are compelled to reverse their habits so as not to leave unwanted items as a sad inheritance . Shortly before tossing something in the trash, I sometimes have to ask myself not only the usual questions – do I want it or need it or love it? But: will my kids want it or need it or love it? And then: would ANYbody want it or need it or love it? Clearly, everything once passed the litmus test; otherwise I would never have owned it. Life is not static though, and the past is too crowded for everyday living, as is a coffin. Or an urn. Or an ashtray.
Eight years. 116880 cigarettes not smoked, saving $33,427.68. Life saved: 1 year, 5 weeks, 6 days, 20 hours, 0 minutes.
There is a deep connection between my brain and my belongings, and most hoarding experts would say “well, duh” to that. What better proof is there than to find yourself in a thrift store checking out the treasures you donated last month? This is why it rarely helps when well-meaning family members swoop in to remove your Stuff for you. They’re just knocking you upside the head, and your brain will spend hours, days, or even weeks explaining to itself why you deserve to be angry or sad or shocked or heartbroken.
What if, without that scrap of fabric, your brain could no longer recall the feelings you had when you wore that garment on the day that you met the love of your life? What if just holding it, you had been able to transport yourself to the exact moment you knew he was about to kiss you for the first time? What if that memory stayed in your head but you couldn’t get to it anymore, to relive it, to recall it, to compare it to all the other kisses that would come after that and fall short?
Feelings, for some of us, are tactile. I never feel the love of motherhood more powerfully than when I feel the top of my sons’ heads. They are all grown, but if I ever have the opportunity to pat them on the head (and don’t squander such an opportunity) I can feel my heart swell and fill with a love I could not contemplate before giving birth.
To dispose of an item is sometimes taking the risk of forgetting something you want to always remember – for a hoarder. If only we would use that brain to organize the memories instead of the clutter.
This is what I was thinking when I saw the dog at the Tiny House Meetup (thank you, Liberation Tiny Homes): for a pet, these Tiny Houses are huge…..Perspective. That’s what it takes to evaluate space. I live in a three bedroom 2 1/2 bath house with an attic and walkout basement. It’s in sub-suburbia, where there are still no sidewalks and you can’t see your neighbors until the leaves have all fallen off the trees. But indoors, as a hoarder, you sit in one spot and Live in only a tiny portion of the space you paid so dearly for…and why?
Because you were going to give great dinner parties and all the kids would hang out in your basement playing board games. And you were going to have a huge wall of books and treasures and art that people would gaze at so lovingly that they’d forget why they were visiting. And there would be sports equipment and a sewing room, and each child would have his own bedroom. And there would be space to homeschool if you had to, and you’d have a separate closet for clothes that were going to fit again someday. And the dining table was the one you sat at as a kid, and it was really quite beautiful.
But the kids are all gone, the spouse is a shut-in, and none of those things is ever going to happen. You don’t need the table for dinner parties. It’s used for sorting, when you can get to it. You haven’t sewn for so long that you don’t know where the pedal to the sewing machine is. The kids didn’t play sports. The books were never read. The extra bedroom was never built. But somehow there’s nowhere to Live, and the Stuff is sucking the very breath out of you, and you know that an eight by twenty foot home on wheels is huge when you think about it.
It’s taken three days to pack for a three-hour event. The event? A Tiny House Meetup; or as I like to think of them, “Huge Rolling Duffel Bags”, or “You-never-know-if-you-might-get-a-splinter-or-something First Aid Kits.” This eastern PA weather is also fickle, so outerwear and umbrellas are always in the van.
When you expect to find dust bunnies under your hoard, the last thing that comes to mind is bubble riders.
These precious things, with their delicate wings once covered in dust, like to ride on all kinds of bubbles and tickle humans who are elsewhere. There is no way they are going to help with housecleaning; they have loftier goals.
The benefit for me was that with each wing I dusted off, and each wish for a happy journey, I found new space in my home and spaciousness in my soul, which I filled with music and light and love instead of more boxes.
And so the connection to my Stuff is loosened, and the idea of blessing someone else with my posessions takes hold. The clothes that will never fit my lifestyle, the crafts I will never make, the repairs I will never attempt, all are going away. Slowly. So as not to trip on a tiny faery.
When it comes to trying on a new lifestyle, I sometimes have to jump in with both feet and then dash back to dry land. In this case, the idea of going tiny after accumulating enough machinery and paperwork to overfill a house, I packed my oversized vehicle and took myself to the mountains. I saw exactly one tiny house on my adventure, but for a couple of weeks I lived in a hotel room, a cottage and a trailer.
First discovery: I can only stand my own company for a limited time. It rained pretty much the whole time I was holed up in these places. With wet sneakers and a fisherman’s hat, I found all sorts of places to mingle with humanity. But once back at my homestead-du-jour, I had to turn on the TV to drown out any semblence of lonliness. I was completely at a loss as to how to discuss anything with a chipmunk, moose, deer, bird, snake or squirrel.
Second discovery: your car can be a very large pocketbook. At least half of the things I brought with me never left the vehicle. Perhaps this is the reason I thought I might enjoy living in a tiny house on wheels.
Third discovery: No moose ever wants to hire you so that you can live in the middle of a blueberry patch in the mountains. By it’s very nature as a vacation spot, nobody lives there in order to work.
Fourth discovery: no matter what you pack, there’s something you wish you hadn’t left behind. This was pretty much expected before I even left for my trip, and likely the reason I still live in a home surrounded by things I might need someday.
It was a big day when I finally let go of the Pack Rat article. It was from the Boston Globe, and it was 35 years old. Never mind that I had never quite figured out what to name the file folder I was going to keep it in, or that it had peanut butter on it, and the lady in the picture had moved far away. I had discovered in my mind that glitch you see hoarders have, clinging to your stuff as if you'd otherwise fall down a cliff. That was a big day, all right; but many more big days had to come before I could go from FullHaus to EmptyNest. And it's still a work in progress.